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10 - Collective Guilt, National Identity, and Political Processes in Contemporary Germany

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 January 2012

Lars Rensmann
Free University of Berlin
Nyla R. Branscombe
University of Kansas
Bertjan Doosje
Universiteit van Amsterdam
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The Holocaust against the Jews of Europe is internationally recognized as a modern genocide that changed the world. It has become a universal moral paradigm in democratic societies and continues to have a significant impact on world politics and international law. Its remembrance provides an ethical background for democratic decision-making and its institutionalization today.

In Germany, the memory and legacy of this past has special implications. The much-lamented burden of guilt has been influential in post-Holocaust German society; Germany's national guilt has deeply affected both collective memory and national identity since the end of the war (Fulbrook, 1999; Rosenthal, 1998). In subtle ways, guilt plays a key role in many facets of contemporary German social and political life (Safran, 2000). Germany, therefore, provides a central arena for analyzing the impact of collective guilt.

How has Germany's guilt been processed on the individual and political levels? More precisely, what is the emotional, cognitive, behavioral, and political impact of this negative legacy on cohorts who share a German identity but are free of personal guilt for any criminal action? Further, how does this affect the cognitive and affective identification with a group identity that is both part of one's self-image and, at the same time, the source of guilt feelings?

How Germany's guilt and the emotional processing of its collective responsibility influences collective identification in contemporary Germany touches on the very core of German social identity.

Collective Guilt
International Perspectives
, pp. 169 - 190
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2004

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